Toronto Maple Leafs: Phil Kessel Quietly Continues His Excellent Season

Anthony FuscoCorrespondent IIIApril 25, 2013

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 13: Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Montreal Canadiens on April 13, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada. The Leafs defeated the Canadiens 5-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Phil Kessel doesn't enjoy the limelight. He tends to stay out of it as much as he can, which is a rarity for a man who plays his hockey under a media microscope in Toronto.

Kessel is an elite and at many times an under-appreciated talent on a Leafs squad that will be making their first playoff appearance since 2004.

A big reason for the playoff berth is the strong yet quiet play of Kessel all season long. As of his most recent game against the Florida Panthers, Kessel has a solid 19 goals and 32 assists for 51 points.

That puts him sixth overall in NHL scoring with only Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis ahead of him. That is some pretty elite company to be placed in.

His 32 assists this season are tied for second-best among right wingers with Patrick Kane equaling his total. The only right winger with more is the seemingly ageless Martin St. Louis.

One part of what has made Kessel's 2012-13 season so successful is that he's been able to grow and transition from a pure goal scorer to a more defensively aware presence.

Don't get me wrong, Kessel is still paid to put pucks in the back of the net, but this season has shown that he is able to add new facets to his game to help himself grow and to help his team win.

Another point of interest on the season and the development of the Madison, Wisconsin, native is that, because he has become more dependable defensively, his plus/minus rating has reacted positively.

He currently stands at minus-one, which is worlds better than his previous two seasons when he finished minus-20 and minus-10 respectively.

Kessel has changed his approach to how he plays the game of hockey. He makes a better effort when backchecking; his defensive lapses have significantly decreased, and through it all, he is still a lethal sniper and playmaker.

Keep an eye on Kessel as his team finishes up the regular season and he tries to continue his hot streak going into the first round of the playoffs.

He's grown as a player and not only helped his team but helped himself as well.

 

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